During the financial crisis earlier in the decade, as with most of America, we were doing everything possible to generate extra income. It was then that we discovered the Goodwill Outlet in Portland, Oregon, where piles of unwanted consumer wreckage is for sale by the pound. Shortly afterwards, we met a woman in Arkansas who sold high-end baby diapers and onesies out of recycled cashmere sweaters. She hand-made these eco-conscious kiddy clothes but she needed a material supplier. That’s where we came in. We would go to Goodwill Outlet, and like pigs searching for a truffle, dig through dunes of filthy clothing for 100% pure, unblemished cashmere sweaters. I got so good at it that I could tell just by the touch if it met her criteria—even before looking at the label. After a while I could identify them by looking at the texture from a distance. We would mail boxes of 50 and 60 sweaters to Arkansas and she would pay us by the unit.
The Goodwill Outlet has a fascinating subculture, filled with emigrants, treasure hunters, resale buyers, hipsters, consumer conscious moms, and people down on their luck. I’ve always had good fortune at the one in Hampton, Virginia and visited it last Saturday afternoon. Afterwards, I stopped by Bethany UMC in Hampton and Parkview UMC in Newport News. There was an event happening at Parkway so I didn’t stay longer than to pull up and take a few pictures from an open car window. In retrospect, this was probably not a good idea. Folks in the parking lot undoubtedly thought I was casing the place for felony robbery. When someone pulls up in front of your building, rolls down his window and takes a series of quick snaps before speeding away, mischief is usually imminent.
The Bethany building, in contrast, was empty and I took more time to explore. As with many A-frame structures, they seem more impressive in person than in a digital file. Bethany was tall, and while not especially unique in its features or ground plan, represented a near perfect example of A-frame construction. While the sanctuary was a nearly flawless triangle, white swooping eaves gave it the sense of an expertly constructed boy scout-era tent. Its roof may have been original because there were years of mineral deposits and patina on the shingles and gutters which gave it unexpected streaks of color. While circling the building, I discovered a back entrance to a Christian education building simply titled “Wesley Hall”. Nothing looked like it had changed since 1965 except for the plastic cigarette disposal receptacle. I put the picture on front page slideshow gallery.
Visiting these churches is like going to the Goodwill Outlet. You never know what you will find. The most important difference between the two is at one you might get an image showcasing the past. At the other you might get bedbugs.